Nintendo just recently released the first trailer for the Nintendo Switch (formerly known by the code-name, NX). The immediate reactions to this console make it look like it will be very popular, and I admit there’s one key aspect to this console that I think will be very beneficial for this device in the console market. I’d like to get into that, but first, there’s one pattern Nintendo’s been following since the Wii that still concerns me about the Switch: the simplification of their control scheme.
The Nintendo Switch’s logo seems to indicate that their controller style is the primary hook with which they intend to sell the Switch (since it mimics the control sticks either side of the Nintendo Switch’s snap-on controllers). At first glance, it appears to be a mimic of the Xbox controller, but notice especially that (at least on the non-pro version of the controller), the Switch controller has swapped out Nintendo’s patented D-pad with a four directional button diamond. This is so that the Switch can optionally play as two controllers, as Nintendo states in their press release that the Switch has the capability of doing. This means making a game for the Swtich amounts to making a game with half of the controller of their competitors their first option for multiplayer gaming on this new system, requiring controls simple enough to fit on the SNES controller. This, accompanied with the apparent sacrifice in hardware capabilities necessary to make the Nintendo Switch work as a portable device means that multi-platform games are still going to find it challenging to be ported onto Nintendo’s device, and that local multiplayer games will require gameplay that works with a fixed camera. Because of these things, you can expect a repeat of the same problems that Nintendo has been criticized for in the past: overly simplified games and little third party support.
However, these kinds of downsides are dependent on the players engaging in local multiplayer only, but both the eSports and the basketball sections of the trailer hint that the NX is also heavily designed around networked play. But, being a mobile console, for the switch this also makes it possible to play networked games locally. It brings back the social aspect to a gaming landscape that has been pushing away from face-to-face interaction, and brings back the kind of ethos that used to accompany old-school LAN parties, but with significantly more ease. With the simplified control scheme that local multiplayer on the Switch requires, it’s probable that multiplayer on the Switch will utilize networked play almost exclusively.
Doing this will require a shift of thinking in how Nintendo does business. Up until now, Nintendo have marketed themselves as a family console: a machine that you buy once, and the entire family plays together. The Switch, however, works best as an individual console, with each player having their own copy. In a family setting where the console will normally be shared, this inhibits that kind of play. I suspect that previous Nintendo owners may not understand this, and may find themselves with an inferior experience playing off of the Nintendo Switch’s weaker local-multiplayer (although Nintendo or their partners could release some great games with simple control schemes that prove me wrong). But, despite this, I think it’s an interesting move and potentially a smart one for Nintendo to start personalizing their game consoles. Because of that personalization, at least this console allows face to face social video gaming to persist in a game console market that’s becoming increasingly antagonistic to non-online gaming.